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It’s been three weeks since I landed in paradise (aka Zanzibar)! Even from the beautiful 20 minute puddle-jumper flight, Zanzibar showed-off its beautiful beaches lined with palm trees and people so friendly and welcoming, you feel at home upon arrival. I find myself living in the beautiful northern village of Nungwi for six weeks to run environmental workshops with the community.
I am living with a local family throughout my stay which is helping me to better understand the daily life of people in the village, their food and of course Swahili. My home stay dad is the only one in the family who speaks English, so he helps me to understand what is happening within the home and how I fit in. While my Moma does not speak much English we communicate with a lot of gestures and plenty of laughs!
There is always something new for me to experience, whether it is learning how to do laundry by hand for first time (much to the amusement of my Moma, her two friends and the 14 children who watched me learn how to do laundry in my first week). Or getting used to having a family of chickens living in our front room. The children definitely find it very funny that the chickens that accidentally wander into the kitchen while we are eating dinner, are constantly startling me!
I am very thankful to have breakfast and dinner provided to me, carefully made by hand each day. But more importantly the time that my host family spends with me during the meals, often humoring my wide range of questions! They definitely do their best to make me feel welcome and at home.
- Megan Firth, Youth Innovator, Tanzania 2014
It was just after seven in the morning. My bag was packed and I was headed to the breakfast table when Fiona, a volunteer from Germany, appeared at my bedroom door.
“Good morning Andrea. Mama Mina says that you must stay in your room. Ok?”
“Ok…” We shared a curious glance and before I could say more she was gone.
I slipped off my shoes and sat back on the bed. Twenty minutes passed. Tiny beads of sweat began collecting at the nape of my neck. Surely it was alright to venture out as far as the front patio for an update.
“Sorry. Sorry. Ten more minutes and we will be ready for you,” Francis, a jovial, young man who lived and worked at Mama Mina’s home stay, shouted as he ran past.
It was nearly 8:00, my start time at the YMCA. I would need to call and-
“Good morning my dear Andie,” Mama Mina exclaimed. Taking my hand, she led me to the outdoor area where the volunteers ate morning and evening meals.
Balloons hung from the trees. The table was set with a flower arrangement. All the volunteers were present, along with the street children who came to Mama Mina’s in the morning for lessons and a meal. Everyone began singing and Francis appeared with the kettle to fill my mug with hot water. The table was full with plates of fruit and baking. Warm, sweet and savoury muffins, crepes, toasted sandwiches, bread for butter and jam. Papaya, mango and pineapple. When had Mama Mina arranged with the volunteers? How early this morning had Francis and the kitchen staff begun preparations? Did I want a crepe or a muffin? Breakfasts were normally very modest. Bread with margarine. Maybe jam. Coffee and tea.
Mama Mina called everyone’s attention for prayer. “Thank you Lord for our volunteers and thank you for bringing us together today to celebrate…” My eyes began welling with tears. I knew that I would linger a bit longer over my coffee that morning. After work I planned on visiting Makola market to purchase fabric for a dress. In a moment of weakness I might hand over my cedis for an exorbitantly overpriced jar of Nutella. Me ma wo awoda pa!
I had only been awake for a few hours and already the day exceeded my expectations. This YCI experience has brought me closer to my personal and professional goal of working in international development, and so for this reason just being here in Ghana felt grand. Making a wish, here on my birthday, was tastier than the fattest spoonful of chocolate spread, straight from the jar.
Andrea Paolini, Youth Innovator, Ghana 2014
My first morning here I woke to red earth, yellow hibiscus and a massive, waxy banana tree outside my window. Be present, I told myself. These six weeks will blow in and out like a breeze. …Today I mark the half-way point with this blog entry. It has been three weeks since I left the snow and chapped skin of an inhospitable Canadian winter, since the airplane landed and immediately filled with steam when cabin doors clicked open to a humid Accra night.
I feel most at ease in the early mornings, when the temperature has not yet begun its ascent, when after a cool shower I feel momentarily refreshed and ready to press start on my work day. Following a simple breakfast of fresh bread and instant coffee, I begin my commute with a ten-minute walk along a meandering dirt road. Strewn with garbage and fallen bougainvillea blossoms it is a striking contrast of rot and beauty.
I head towards Asylum Down Circle, a bustling traffic circle where city dwellers converge to catch taxis. All around, vendors sell phone credit and coconuts, toiletries and water sashes. Pots of oil sizzle with deep frying fish and bofrot, (sweet gooey balls of dough). In the distance I watch as the taxi I hoped to join putt putts away. Another will be along shortly to fill with passengers.
Back in Toronto I often shut out the city soundscape by listening to a news podcast. But here, I want to hear all that I can. The shouts of “obroni” (white) from street children, requisite Bob Marley layered over chart topping dance hits and the morning call to prayer, wonky horns and ringing bells warning me to get out of the way.
A few minutes later I hand the driver one cedi thirty pesewas (approximately 65 cents Cdn) and wait to alight at the cathedral. Landmarks, rather than numbered addresses are used here to navigate the city. From the cathedral I walk a few more minutes, past Accra’s psychiatric hospital (hence the area name, “Asylum”) and past Paulina, a local merchant who has befriended me. She is stoking a fire in preparation for roasting yams, plantains and groundnuts.
Once at the YMCA I greet the staff and settle at my desk. The six of us will gather shortly for prayer and morning announcements. Today, in addition to updating the Facebook and Twitter accounts, I must finalize a press release for the upcoming Inter-Cultural Youth Festival. The festival will be held in Cape Coast, July 19-29, 2014. I was fortunate to visit Cape Coast my first weekend in Ghana. I remember lingering on the castle balcony, lost in the long stretch of sand, crashing waves and a fat, pink lollipop sunset…
Yes, these final weeks will blow in and out quickly and before I know it I’ll be back in Toronto, riding the subway to work, ordering a grande extra hot soy misto from Starbucks, wishing for the breeze that as I type this last sentence, I presently savour.
Andrea Paolini, Youth Innovator, Ghana 2014
It is the end of Week 3 on Project. We’ve completed 5 workshops across 3 schools covering very important topics of confidence and self esteem building through Public Speaking and Sexual Reproductive Health focusing on menstrual hygiene and birth control. After a very productive and successful week, we’re now reflecting upon our experiences.
All of our hard work preparing for the workshops has really paid off, as our girls really showcased their talents and skills during their practical Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Project activities. During the workshops, we motivated and empowered 5 classes (approximately 90) young women.
Our “Your Voice Matters” Public Speaking workshop aimed to train our MDG girls for their upcoming project showcase at the Go Girls Summit Event. It was great conquering the stage fright, and watching the young leaders blossom before us. We witnessed the personal growth of most of these girls, which was truly rewarding. On the health aspects, we educated our girls on the importance of sexual reproductive health. Battling teenage pregnancy rates in the Western Region of Ghana at the grassroots level, girls were educated on effective birth control methods and general hygiene practices. We leveled the playing field of gender equality, empowering the girls to believe in the power of their own decisions and their voices.
We were privileged to see the girls in action on their MDG projects. We met up with the MDG groups this week to track their progress and ensure they were preparing for the upcoming event. The first two groups from Nana Brempong YAW focused on: eradicating extreme poverty and achieving universal primary education.
The first learned how to make artisanal crafts to emphasize self-sustainability. The second are making presentations to their classmates who have difficulties making it to class about the importance of school.
Both groups were passionate about their topics and it really showed. The other two groups from the YMCA decided to work on: environmental sustainability and gender equality.
The group working on environmental sustainability initiated their project from their own school with the motto of charity starts at home. They formed an Environmental Club and cleaned up their school grounds.
The other group held a workshop of their own on Women Empowerment and Leadership to their classmates. We were proud to see these girls carry out their workshop in such a professional manner and with passion. Overall, it was a very moving experience to see the progress these young women were making right in front of us. These girls were on fire! Absolutely unstoppable. This is just the beginning for all of these groups, but we are hopeful that they continue these projects after we leave, as there is so much work to be still done.
Next up, our grand finale, the Go Girls Summit on March 26th, 2014. We are so proud of the girls’ progress, and cannot wait to see their presentations and their continued leadership in their communities!
- Edna Quan, Rachel Ouellette and Rakshin Saroha, Youth Ambassadors, Ghana 2014
“Do you want paintings? Very cheap price for you!” He said. I was volunteering in Stone Town in Zanzibar in Tanzania, East Africa.
This is the gazillionth time I’ve been approached by touters trying to make a quick buck at unsuspecting tourists. Who knows the actual prices of these paintings?
“How much is cheap?” He offered a price. I couldn’t remember what it is now. Nor does it matter. “And what is it painted on?” After all, my degree was in Art History, big help that was in landing a career.
“Banana leaves!” He exclaimed. Ok. That’s pretty interesting. Trying to get out of the tout, I humoured him.
“Do you have the big 5? And a big painting of it on banana leaves?” He explained that he could search for it. With sincerity. He also explained that his grandfather painted them, who knows if that was true.
“All right, I’ll be around for 5 more weeks. I’ll find you here at Shangani Park!” Which wasn’t a lie. I was interested to see if he could get “The Big 5″ referring to the 5 biggest animals in Africa: lion, elephant, hippo, leopard and the buffalo. He told me his name was Joseph.
A few weeks later I bumped into him again with him touting the same thing. He clearly doesn’t remember me but was shocked when I called him by name. Again, I told him I’d be around for a few more weeks and not to worry.
I had forgotten about Joseph for 3 weeks since. I did want a painting before I left though, of something from Zanzibar. I decided I was going to find this Joseph, but hadn’t spotted him hunting for tourists. Finally after New Years, I had wandered with a group of friends into the depths of Stone Town got lost
“Hey! My friend! How are you?!” Joseph pops out from the side street. He was as excited to see me as I was to him. Our brief encounters before were quite jovial, despite the obvious hard sells. I told him I never see him around anymore.
“I’m learning to paint now!” That got my attention. This young man, probably just hovering around late teens went from a street peddler to a painter over night. I wondered what his game was.
“I just have a few paintings now, but later I will have more! I have a teacher!” I suddenly felt I had to support this man in his endeavors. We traded numbers and discussed how I could find him later on. After all I had 2 more weeks here.
I’ve known and seen several people in my travels just give up in life in poor economic conditions and resort to the drink or whatever cop-out drugs they can find. Economically ranking in the 2012 UN census, Tanzania sits 177th out of 194 countries. There are only 17 more countries poorer than Tanzania where Somalia stands in last place.
In Zanzibar, a tropical paradise, economically devastated, where resorts for the rich Westerners, mzungu’s, are juxtaposed beside the poor shanty shacks made of coral rock and metal sheets, where locals have very little hope in achieving the wealth of a tourist, this man had pulled his life together and is going to make the best of his situation.
A few days later I had made a specific run down to see Joseph to get art and he took me to another store where he was painting. These paintings were all done with a palette knife and also negative spaced lines where the paint is scraped off. Humanoid figures depict the Masai people from Arusha closer inland to Mount Kilimanjaro. Bulbous stomachs, nose, and breasts make up the gist of the references of the body and the negative spaced depicted the jewelry they often wear.
“I know you wanted to support me and my art rafiki. I’m really giving you a good price now.”
After shopping around for art, I knew his prices weren’t bad and he had already reduced them. I could be a nasty haggler when I know I’m being ripped off. Whatever price he named I was willing to give. With my buddy, Christine, we had bought pretty much the 3 paintings that he had available to encourage him to continue on the path that he is going to pursue.
With that, he packed it into a cardboard tube, we shook hands and departed. This artist is already rich and he doesn’t even know it yet. (And I don’t mean money).
As a YCI Marketing and Communications Innovator I will assist the Ghana YMCA in creating a vibrant and sustainable social media presence to engage youth and promote its programming. Towards this goal, I travelled to Takoradi, where in partnership with the Ghana YMCA, YCI provides mentoring and youth training to girls in junior and senior high school. Upon arrival in Takoradi, located four hours west of Accra, I met with YCI Ambassadors Rachel Ouellette, Edna Quan and Rakshin Saroha. The following morning I accompanied them, first to the YMCA to conduct a physical education class for some forty teen girls and then onto Nana Brempong Yaw, a local junior high school. Here the Ambassadors spoke to girls, ages 13-15 about the importance of education and then they facilitated a workshop on public speaking for ten girls selected to be peer educators. As Frederick Dadzie, Senior Program Manager at YCI Ghana mentioned in a recent blog post, these workshops are part of a larger strategic plan to help girls promote and achieve the Millennium Development Goals. I was immediately struck by the confidence and poise with which they told their stories. They sought a future rich in magnificent colour, one in which they succeeded and supported their families.
I do not know the exact circumstances and complexities that were these girls’ realities. Perhaps it is for this reason that I took such comfort in what I did know. At that exact moment as girls across Ghana hawked wares along polluted and dusty motor ways, these girls — among them Mercy, Patience, Cristobel, Lovely, Gracie, Millicent and Elizabeth — were in a classroom. Safe. They were not statistics or factoids. They were captivating and inquisitive young girls who, in addition to enjoying music and dancing hoped someday to be doctors and teachers, journalists and mothers. How I hope, that despite the very real obstacles that face them, these girls continue to thrive… I am here in Ghana for and because of these girls…
- Andrea Paolini, Youth Innovator, Ghana 2014
Akwaabah! Welcome to Ghana. In the ten days that we’ve been here, we have learned a lot about Ghanaian culture, yet there is still plenty to uncover and experience. Our initial impressions told us that everyone is very hospitable and welcoming, and everyone is reaching out to support you, as it is a communal culture here. No one gets left behind. Settling into our new lives here in Takoradi we have only touched on the tip of the iceberg, tasting the local flavors, commuting by taxis, tro-tros and buses and witnessing the devotion to faith in daily life.
While on project we are spoiled with amazing breakfast and dinner meals by our host mom/family. Lunches, we fare for ourselves, discovering the hot, freshly made to order from the vendors, street foods of waayche, deep fried plaintains (in fresh form and as chip form) to air-conditioned comfortable restaurants featuring a menu of fufu, banku, chicken, fish and goat dishes, jollof, red-red, and fried rice.
The staple ingredients of beans and rice are featured in many of the local dishes are seasoned on the light side, going on the less salty side of the spectrum. Whereas the black sauce coating the waayche is a spicy-lover’s dream come true. It’s not for the weak, so be warned! For the sweet-tooth, track down mobile refreshments on the pedal bicycles to experience Ghana’s best kept secret of FanIce. Under the hot Ghanaian sun, FanIce is the perfect cure to cool you down. Vanilla, Chocolate and Strawberry Yoghurt flavours to satisfy all. Looking for more natural flavours?
Look no further than the bustling fresh fruit stands which are prominent throughout the city’s bustling streets. Try the sweetest, juiciest mangoes (ripe off a tree), a variety of white flesh pineapple, bursting with flavor despite its deceiving green exterior, and buttery avocados that melt in your mouth. Local flavours, local dishes, offering great options for the adventures of the taste-buds. When seeking international flavours, Takoradi delivers on Chinese and Western dishes in and around the beach resorts, located a short taxi ride out of the city centre.
Once daily traffic builds up, the streets become your shopping centre. Anything and everything is available from street vendors approaching you at your window of your taxi or tro-tro ride. Common items for sale range from food & water, apparel, footwear to electronics. Taxis, tro-tros and air-conditioned buses. Moving within Takoradi is a breeze since almost every third car is a taxi. Spot taxis easily by their golden-yellow-marked sides. Negotiate your taxi fare before boarding with the knowledgeable drivers who navigate the city streets like NASCAR drivers. Be sure to buckle up for security, some roads come with unfilled potholes (navigated expertly by these pro-drivers)! Grab a shared taxi for fixed rates, and a communal route, shared with other riders along the way. Or a drop taxi for door to door service. Tro-tros are the connecting buses between the other destinations inside and outside of Takoradi. Like a shared taxi, but much bigger capacity, and travels longer distances.
With only two and a half weeks left on project, we hope to let the rest of the culture soak in, digging deeper for more of what the Ghana has to offer!
- Rachel Ouellette & Edna Quan, Youth Ambassadors, Ghana 2014
In 2013, YCI sent 80 exceptional volunteers to Costa Rica, Ghana, Guyana, and Tanzania over the course of the year. Together, this dedicated group of young people contributed over 37,000 hours to our international programs.
YCI values our youth volunteers who have demonstrated outstanding performance and skills, upheld our values as representatives of YCI, and for being continuously involved in their local communities. In recognition of these achievements, YCI is proud to present three awards this year: the 2013 International Volunteer of the Year award to Jessica O’Reilly; the Local Volunteer of the Year Award to Omar Mohammed Bakar; and, the Runner-Up award to Kayleigh Gaspari,
Jessica joined YCI during the summer of last year to volunteer in Guyana. Not only was it Jessica’s first time travelling outside of Canada, but also it was her first time on board a plane!
In Guyana, Jessica worked with students at a small education centre, conducting life skills session on self-esteem, communication skills, career guidance and IT classes. Jessica made strong bonds within the community, attending three weddings in the Guyanese community.
Since returning to Canada, Jessica has become involved with many different organizations and continues to make a difference. She helps students with learning and behavioural disabilities at Trent University Oshawa and is part of a Pen Pal program where University students are paired with elementary students.
Aside from her school-related volunteer work, Jessica took the initiative to contact, Restoring Hope International, the foundation that built the educational centre she worked with in Guyana to let them know about her experiences at the centre. The Foundation was so impressed with Jessica that she spoke at the foundation’s annual fundraiser in New York last October.
Right now, she’s back in school at Trent University Oshawa, but she also sponsors two children that she taught at the educational centre. Now that’s dedication.
YCI also recognizes inspirational young leaders from the local communities that we serve. We’re proud to present the Local Volunteer of the Year Award to Omar Mohammed Bakar from Zanzibar.
Omar first became involved at YCI as a participant of the Emerging Leaders program in 2012. Omar was incredibly dedicated to the program and joined as a local volunteer after completing the Emerging Leaders program.
Omar is a valuable asset in Zanzibar and has had a tremendous impact on every volunteer; supporting all YCI volunteers with advice, adjusting to the local community, and translation. He also goes out of his way to be a friend to volunteers, show them around, and to share cultural experiences. And of course, volunteers love him. Aside from his friendly nature, the Emerging Leaders program would not have been successful without his translation and facilitation assistance.
Omar is a very dedicated leader in his community and serves as an inspiration to the Emerging Leader participants along with the YCI volunteers. He likes to share what he has learned, not just from the Emerging Leaders program, but also from the volunteers who come from different backgrounds.
This year, we’re also pleased to honour and present the runner-up for the Volunteer of the Year, Kayleigh Gaspari.
Kayleigh was part of a custom project in Ghana with the IVEY Business School Sustainability Club. She is a strong and independent person, taking on additional responsibilities over the course of her placement to host extra entrepreneurship trainings to youth organizations that needed additional support. Kayleighy was able to develop and make clear, coherent and professional formal presentations while conducting eight workshops during the Micro-enterprise conference she and her group organized.
Kayleigh is described as always ready to take initiative and stood up for every challenge that came her way. She is an inspiration to entrepreneurs who are encouraged by her examples.
So there you have it, our inspiring volunteers who have made differences in their own way. Become a YCI volunteer to make a difference yourself.
When I first arrived on Zanzibar Island off the coast of mainland Tanzania, it was my first time setting foot on the continent I had longed to travel to. Africa had always attracted me. Everything about it drew my attention; it’s rich ethnic and linguistic diversity, its vast landscapes and wildlife, its unique history and often troubled political climate and its vibrant and lively people. So you can imagine I was thrilled when I got the opportunity to volunteer in Zanzibar for six weeks teaching the Emerging leaders program with the NGO Youth Challenge International. Being an overseas volunteer virgin I was not sure what to expect but what I found was challenging, surprising and a whole lot of fun!
The first thing that struck me when I arrived on Zanzibar island was the assault on my senses, the sights, smells, tastes, and sounds were all new to me. As I walked through the endless array of market stalls in Sokoni, Mwanakwerekwe the smells of fresh octopus and fish hit me immediately. I was not prepared for the sheer amount of market stalls brimming with fresh fruits and vegetables, spices and herbs, grains and rice, and the assortment of fresh sea food from red snapper to octopus, laid out expertly for my eyes to feast on. I wandered the endless pathways looking like a child in a candy store admiring the fresh produce stacked in their neat piles and enjoying the waft of cloves and cinnamon that filled the air around me.
I smiled politely as the stall owners attempt to sell me everything from dried octopus skin to sugar cane juice spiced with ginger. I declined the former and savored every sip of the latter. The local stall owners and fellow shoppers seemed to find my presence both surprising and amusing. I was visiting a market rarely frequented by foreigners or mzungu as the locals refer to me as, I am sure I looked out of place and disoriented by my surroundings. However, they took my naïveté in stride and politely welcomed me and offered me their produce at “the best price”. Once I emerged from the hustle and bustle I was carrying three spice boats, a loaf of Zanzibar bread, one pineapple, and two passion fruits and the store owners I purchased from smiled at their small victory. I felt 9,000 tsh lighter but I was thoroughly satisfied. I awkwardly dodged my way through the pedestrians, dalalas, street venders, and the occasional donkey cart to Kivulini Street. I only know the name of the street because I was told so, there are no street signs to speak of and I recognize the street based on the size and quantity of potholes that adorn it. One risks the integrity of their vehicle undercarriage attempting to cross its narrow rocky crevices.
Thankfully for this journey I am on foot. As I make my way through the street; I pass local shop owners, a car repair shop and a welder who looks up from his work to greet me with a large smile “Karibu Kwetu” (welcome to our country), “Asante sana” (thank you very much) I reply and pause to admire his handicraft. He is expertly welding gates for residential purposes the hot sun is beating down on him as he completes his work. His hands show the signs of hard work and his face years of experience, he holds his welding mask in his left hand, unused while he works. I give him a thumb up to acknowledge his craft he smiles and I decide to leave him to his work.
As I continue down the road I notice here are several goats grazing in the soccer field adjacent to my homestay and they look up as I pass by unimpressed with my presence. The hot mid-day sun ensures that football field is devoid of presence unlike after sunset when the throngs of young football hopefuls flock to practice their skills. As I walk, the neighborhood children call out to me mzungu…mzungu…mzungu…I smile and greet them with “mambo” to which they reply “poa” I give them high fives and they follow me with more children gathering as we walk. I turn right down the next road and make my way to my modest homestay, a refuge from the hot African sun.
Christine Hunter, Youth Innovator, Tanzania, 2013
YCI is currently recruiting for an 8-week project in Tanzania this May 6 to July 1st to work with our partners on leadership, health and education initiatives.